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Jean-Michel Jarre - Équinoxe CD (album) cover

ÉQUINOXE

Jean-Michel Jarre

 

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4.02 | 252 ratings

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Frankingsteins
4 stars After gaining unprecedented success with 'Oxygene,' French electronic composer Jean-Michel Jarre began work on a follow-up.

'Equinoxe,' a forty-minute musical journey performed on synthesiser, organ, keyboards, mellophonium, mellotron, Farfisa organ and rhythm programmer, owes a great debt to its predecessor but also manages to sound more accomplished and spectacular as a result. Equinoxe seems to rectify the mistakes made by Oxygene, the little things that didn't affect its popularity but did affect its chances of being taken seriously as an electronic classic.

Equinoxe is divided into eight (fairly-) distinctive parts. As would be expected, especially by those who have heard Oxygene, the parts are designed to flow together to create one vast musical experience, varying between soft, fairly inanimate parts to relax the mind and disco-anticipating hooks and ditties repeated without apparent end.

There is a natural feeling to Equinoxe; this music has dated, it sounds in places like a simplistic video game score, but its effect has not diminished. Anyone partial to electronic music should seek out Equinoxe over any of Jarre's other work as it almost perfects the mood / substance balance in a way that only his more impressive peer Vangelis has truly mastered.

SIDE ONE

1. Equinoxe part 1 (2:23) 2. Equinoxe part 2 (5:01) 3. Equinoxe part 3 (5:11) 4. Equinoxe part 4 (6:54)

If Jarre intended Equinoxe to represent the course of a day, the introductory track certainly evokes a sense of early morning, beginnings, brightness and hope, led by high, slow keyboards. This track sounds like electronics imitating nature, something Vangelis later tried with the eccentric 'Soil Festivities' (1984).

Initially seeming somewhat disappointing, tracks two and three seem to revert to the subdued ambience of Oxygene's less memorable moments, until repeated listens or a sharp ear detect that there is a great deal more going on: the rolling wave sounds and layered spectral sounds evoke a more atmospheric and vivid image than Oxygene ever did, part two sounding sombre and sleepy and part three seeming noticeably more lively, led by an evolving melody.

Equinoxe becomes unexpectedly and quite brilliantly exciting and dramatic as the memorable melody and beat of the fourth part quietly begins, before launching into one of Jarre's most famous compositions. This is the highlight of the album for me, the perfect blend of ethereal ambience and exciting keyboards, the track fading in an out to excellent deeper sounds and what almost sounds like synthesised vocals or a keyboard-created demon. There is so much going on in this track, it's difficult to associate it with anything tangible: it's spacey, majestic and 70s.

SIDE TWO

5. Equinoxe part 5 (3:47) 6. Equinoxe part 6 (3:23) 7. Equinoxe part 7 (7:24) 8. Equinoxe part 8 (5:04)

The album fades out between tracks four and five, a sad feature of double-side vinyl production that could have been done without here. Not that the lack of segue affects the enjoyment of Equinoxe part 5, the track released as a single and thus the most catchy and accessible by default, but it would have been interesting to hear the bridge between this and its predecessor. Track five is no less accomplished than the other efforts, and thankfully doesn't sound out of place or particularly 'poppy' as sections of Oxygene did. There are too many great synthesiser effects going on every moment to describe or even take in, but this songs is essentially carried through on a medium range melody accompanied and attacked by all kinds of high keyboard ditties and background effects. It's a lot of fun, and is nipped in the bud before it lasts for too long, fading unnoticeably into the more rhythm-focused sixth part. This part is the weakest section of the album, not entirely unnecessary but serving only to maintain the flow for several dull minutes.

Part 7 eventually gets round to adding some spice to the beat of the vinyl's second side that is now becoming stale, mimicking part 4 in its more dramatic and high-reaching style but possibly even besting it in terms of its progression and subtle build up, as well as uncanny ability to maintain interest over its lengthy duration. The album concludes in a very unusual style that confounds me over the issue of whether I enjoy or loathe it. Jarre's organ comes into play, casting a distinctive sound over the music that breaks the trance and evokes, if anything, a lonely, windswept pier at Blackpool rather than the grand locations and uplifting moods of the first three parts.

This is saved from being the track to skip by the fade-in of sounds from earlier and elsewhere in the album, guiding the listener to an ambient conclusion on an extended, fading note that seemed so lacking in the previous album.

Equinoxe won't be to everyone's taste, and isn't as groundbreaking as 1976's 'Oxygene,' but this is far more than a lazy cash-in on that album's success. The structure and style is continued and noticeably evolved, the difference sounding remarkable after only two years. Equinoxe is relaxing, soothing, exciting, spacey, progressive, strange, bouncy, haunting and beautiful. As with classical music and more contemporary instrumentals, it isn't clear exactly what Jarre is trying to evoke, but the abstract artwork and anonymous tracks leave this to the listener's disgression.

Fans of this album should also investigate the work of Vangelis (the album 'Spiral,' released the same year as this, seems like an I-was-here-first assault of Jarre's style. but isn't quite as good as his more moody pieces!) while Tangerine Dream's 'Phaedra' and 'Stratosfear' sound like the real inspiration for Jarre's ambient backdrop.

Oxygene belongs to the seventies, its only real value in the 21st century being as a historic novelty. Equinoxe belongs in the record collection of every fan of progressive rock and electronic music. Addictive.

Frankingsteins | 4/5 |

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